Badal all the
The force of
Well delivered but delayed
IT is heartening that the terrorists involved in the Mumbai train blasts of 1998 have, at last, been punished by being sentenced to undergo life imprisonment. Six years after the accused set off a series of five bomb explosions between January 23 and February 27, 1998, killing four and injuring over 30, the prosecution has finally prevailed in getting 11 of the 14 accused convicted and sentenced.
Point 5353 still
in Pakistan’s possession
Godman and God
Badal all the way
THE clean sweep by the Shiromani Akali Dal in the SGPC elections has concentrated dual powers into the hands of former Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal. Ideally, religion and politics should be kept apart but this ideal is made to stand on its head in Punjab. Whosoever controls the gurdwaras also enjoys political supremacy. Nobody knows it better than Mr Badal. He held sway whenever he was in tune with Mr Gurcharan Singh Tohra. The bad blood harmed them both and they pragmatically decided to bury the hatchet. Now Mr Badal will be the all-in-one supremo. That is a unique situation. Even when Mr Tohra was with firmly with the Akali Dal, at least there were two centres of power. Now Mr Badal has become the solo super power, as it were, the Panthic Morcha opposing him having lost Assembly, Lok Sabha and SGPC elections. That can cause some complications.
For one thing, the election of the SGPC head will be problematic. Whosoever is chosen will not only have to step into the late Mr Tohra's oversized shoes but will also have to live down the impression that he was under the tutelage of Mr Badal. That can be a tall order indeed. Mr Badal himself will have to be extra-cautious that he does not step on too many toes. His adversaries are defeated but not vanquished. Many ego clashes among the newly elected SGPC members owing allegiance to the Shiromani Akali Dal can also not be ruled out.
The poll process itself has been marked by many unsavoury controversies. The bad blood caused by various allegations of partiality by the returning officers has the making of a long tussle. Similarly, the violence that broke out at various places was unseemly. But the worst of all was the widespread use of liquor and other intoxicants. It is a pity that such vices were witnesses in the election of an organisation like the SGPC.
THE Left parties have taken a strong objection to one of the daring proposals made by Finance Minister P. Chidambaram in the Union Budget for 2004-05. The minister has raised the foreign direct investment (FDI) cap in telecommunications, insurance and civil aviation. This is in keeping with the Common Minimum Programme, which points out that foreign investment would be encouraged in all sectors. The previous National Democratic Alliance government had also toyed with the idea of raising the FDI cap in telecommunications, but could not implement the idea. Most political parties in the country agree on the need for attracting foreign investment.
Then why is the Left, which supports the United Progressive Alliance government from outside, is protesting? On telecommunications, it gives security reasons for its opposition. Foreign companies in the telecommunication sector can jeopardise national security concerns, it feels. That is rather a reflection on the intelligence of the scientists manning and monitoring the country's security network. On insurance, it says funds made available by this sector to the government for development will dry up once foreign companies enter the field. A large part of India does not enjoy insurance cover because of the high costs, poor services and limited reach of the services. The same holds true for air services. The condition of airports and quality of services offered should make anyone sit up.
It is not that foreign companies are waiting in a queue to invest in India. Big players are unlikely to enter India as long as the national telecommunication market is fragmented in circles, which makes the investment less profitable. Besides, in the absence of global giants, consumers will not be able to reap the benefits of latest technology. Limited competition will not bring in efficiency and bring down the prices of services. The Left has its political compulsions to make public protests. But at the same time its responsible leaders have made it known that they will not bring down the government on this issue.
The force of justice
IT is heartening that the terrorists involved in the Mumbai train blasts of 1998 have, at last, been punished by being sentenced to undergo life imprisonment. Six years after the accused set off a series of five bomb explosions between January 23 and February 27, 1998, killing four and injuring over 30, the prosecution has finally prevailed in getting 11 of the 14 accused convicted and sentenced. One Pakistani national has been acquitted by a Mumbai Sessions Court, which ordered his deportation. Two of the accused are reported to be still at large. The convictions, under Section 150 of the Indian Railways Act, are the first such. Another remarkable aspect of the conviction is the sentencing judge's direction to the State Government that none of the 11 lifers should be given remission after 14 years. This means that all the terrorists, barring one who is 60 years old, would be confined to jail for a total of 50 years as the sentences would run consecutively and not concurrently.
Although the numbers killed and wounded were fewer than in several other terrorist depredations the country has suffered, the accused by their actions had struck panic in Mumbai for several weeks. Suburban trains, on which millions travel daily, are the lifeline of India's financial capital and the succession of blasts at the stations and tracks had created unprecedented fear. The conspiracy and its execution had implicated Pakistan and its Inter-Services Intelligence. According to the prosecution, five Pakistani nationals, alleged to be ISI agents, had hatched the plot for the serial blasts in league with a group of Indians. Their arrest in the aftermath of the blasts had pre-empted more such strikes that were planned in public places and services in Mumbai.
However, six years is a long time, and the delays and hurdles that dog such trials ought to be eliminated. Speedier prosecution and trial would serve as more of a deterrent to potential terrorists who seem to take for granted the "softness" of the Indian state and its agencies.
All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.
Point 5353 still in Pakistan’s possession
Following the leak of an internal Army report on Kargil to the media last month, a number of issues related to Operation Vijay and Operation Parakram were thrown up again, notably the incomplete story of Point 5353 in Dras. Until the 1971 war, hill feature Point 13620 (height in feet) overlooking Kargil town and the Shingo river valley was the most celebrated and severely fought-over hillock. Twice, once before and once during the 1965 war, Point 13620 was wrested from Pakistan at a heavy cost, and both times it was returned. In 1971 it was recaptured, but this time retained by the Indian Army. Since then both sides have indulged in creeping operations to improve their fighting positions along the LoC in Kargil.
The celebrity status of Point 13620 was usurped by Point 5353 (17,600 feet) in the neighbouring Dras sector. The bulk of the intrusions and encroachments have been in the Dras, Kargil and Batalik sectors since the Kashmir war started in 1947. Pakistan made its biggest foray of intrusions in the spring of 1999 in this sector. It was a tactically well-conceived operation but a strategic blunder. General Jahangir Karamat and General Talat Masood of Pakistan have admitted that Kargil was a mistake. Nowhere in the history of warfare has an army fought against such heavy odds at such forbidding heights and under severe political constraints (not to cross the LoC) as the Indian Army did during Operation Vijay. While the battles for Tiger Hill, Tololing and other heights have been told many times, the full story of Point 5353 hasn't.
Point 5353 is the summit of pinnacles on the watershed in the Dras sector. It is flanked by two other heights — Points 5240 and 5165 — all on the LoC. Its colossal domination of the Dras Bowl and Sandow valley was achieved by the Pakistan Army, cleverly using the two south-facing ridge lines emanating from it and paralysing the movement in Dras. It was heights like 5100, 4700 and 4875 on these ridge lines, immortalised during Kargil, that required the best infantry in the world to reclaim these awesome mountains. Winning back these two ridge lines virtually ended the Kargil war.
At the end of the war, local commanders had agreed that neither army would occupy Points 5240, 5165 and 5353 through which passed the LoC. None of these was ever with the Indian Army. Nor were these at the time in Pakistani possession. But once Brig Surinder Singh and other officers, removed from command, accused the Army of losing Point 5353 to Pakistan (among other derelictions of command) the DGMO had to go public about the status of Point 5353. An unsavoury controversy followed. The present Army Chief, Gen N. C. Vij, was the DGMO. On August 11, 2000, he issued a Press release with elaborate notes and maps asserting that Point 5353 had never been under Indian occupation.
An unintended faux pas on January 1, 2001, by the Press Information Bureau was the release of a photograph showing then Defence Minister George Fernandes atop Point 5353. This compounded the controversy and resulted in the sacking of the official responsible for the mistake. And so, a cloud continued to hang over Point 5353, while surreptitious battles for hill points continued. One such occurred towards the end of October 1999 when units of 8 Mountain Division seized Points 5240 (and subsequently 5165 but not 5353) apparently to forestall Pakistani occupation.
Taking Points 5240 and 5165 was not difficult, keeping them was tough. The mystery was over not taking Point 5353. It appears the unit asked to do so said it was impossible to get there. But Pakistan had breached the local commanders' agreement and turned Point 5353 into a rope-maintained permanent post.
The second phase of the Point 5353 story started during Operation Parakram which commenced on December 13, 2001, following the terrorist attack on Parliament. By then the area north and east of Zojila Pass, including Leh, had been upgraded into a new Corps Zone from a divisional sector. Parakram had opened a window of opportunity in the Kargil sector for the new 14 Corps to complete the Army's unfinished agenda for the Kargil war: seize Point 5353. While throughout April and May 2002, Point 5353 was pulverised with metal from Bofors guns, sometimes 10,000 rounds a day, Concourse missiles, cargo ammunition and air defence guns in direct fire, by May-end, Point 5070, a pivotal feature about 10 km west of Point 5353, was quietly seized in a brilliant stealth operation. The post was named Balwan after the Jat regiment that took it. Balwan had turned the flank of Pakistani defences in the Dras sector. The Indian Army now had a grand view and domination of the Gultari valley through which Pakistani posts are maintained in Dras.
The Pakistan Army used to occupy Point 5070 as a summer post. Its surprise loss drew furious reaction and several counter-attacks, which resulted in heavy Indian casualties. An incensed General Musharraf removed both the Pakistan GoC and Brigade Commander for losing a post and a new Force Commander, Northern Areas, was also appointed.
The seizure of Point 5070 was a good diversion while all hell was being let loose on Point 5353 in preparation for the assault. On June 10 an Indian patrol managed to creep into Point 5353 and found several wounded soldiers crying for help. D-Day was fixed for June 17. The Northern Army Commander, Lt-Gen R.K. Nanavati, flew into Delhi with the final plan and for the green signal. US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage beat him to it. A few days earlier, he had brought to Delhi from Islamabad General Musharraf's pledge, in his words: "To end cross-border terrorism permanently, visibly, irreversibly and to the satisfaction of India." Mr George Fernandes said "no" to General Nanavati.
The rock-and-boulder-strewn Point 5353 is thus still in Pakistan's possession, leaving unfinished the Army's Kargil agenda. Like India's Bana post in Siachen, Pakistan has fixed ropes to reach the top as it is battered by direct firing guns from Indian posts on either side at Point 5240 and Point 5165 --- that is till the ceasefire on November 26 last year. Point 5353 will be better remembered as a stone quarry than a strategic
Godman and God
Since time immemorial hills and high mounts fascinated the laity, as abodes of Gods and godmen. Hermit saints wandered in the wild practising penance and praying for peace. Himalayas, home to Lord Shiva evoked primordial awe and reverence. Human inaccessibility lent these places an aura of mystery and majesty. A quiet calm characterised those spaces and times.
Cut to the present, leaps of technology plus its mass affordability have totally transformed the religious landscape.
Religious tourism has replaced pilgrimages. Communion with God has been made swifter and simpler. Spiritual TV channels command considerable viewership.
Responding to the signals of her sixth sense the other day, Abha urged upon me to plan an early visit to the sacred shrine at Maihar. Situated in the sleepy Satna district of Madhya Pradesh, it nestles in the midst of a cluster of cement factories which owe their existence to the silica rich ranges of the Vindhyas. Scars of limestone mining dot the denuded terrain.
Maihar derives its name from Ma-ka-haar, the place where Parvati's necklace descended after she was slain by an enraged Lord Shiva and her limbs were strewn all over. Naina Devi in the north is where her eyes landed, Kamakhya Devi in the north-east is where her genitalia fell et al. Each one of these is revered as a Siddha Peeth. Sharada Ma's shrine at Maihar dates back to sixth century.
At Maihar, two of us slept early and rose before the dawn to set off to the temple. We really did a rush job to join the ceremonial morning aarti slated for seven o'clock. Prasadam in hand, as I set foot on the first step, a barrage of adverts bombarded us, each proclaiming as to which cement maker got how many steps repaired or renovated. This seamless saga of trumpet blowing went up the hill. Charity cheated, I gasped. Could there be a bigger exercise in ingratitude ? Right at the deity's doorsteps !
The temple is perched atop a hillock. Devouts climb a thousand and one steps to have Ma ke darshan. Gradient got steeper as one climbed up. Religious tourists though took the road that winds its way round and up the hill, they too climbed the least and last flight of stairs. But believers trudged along.
We paused midhill to savour the breathtaking view unfolding below as though we were flying low over a small hamlet while many a man and woman stopped enroute to snatch a breath.
A half-an-hour climb saw us trailing the queue, which was inching its way to the deity. Glancing at my watch, I curiously craned my neck to get a glimpse of the august aarti. Little did we know that the ceremonial aarti had already been held (or hijacked !) at quarter past six at the behest of a godman. It was none other than the local SDM who happened to be at the temple an hour before we
Union Budget: It’s pro-industry
A ritual called Union Budget is performed every year in February. This time it was presented on July 8, 2004. After listening to the budget speech on television, it seems to me, as a student of economics, that the budget is more or less oriented to liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation (LPG). In other words, it is a pro-reforms, rather pro-second generation reforms, budget. One also finds it pro-middle class, pro-industry and pro-share market.
The policy directions aiming at employment generation, alleviation of poverty, reducing of income inequality, curbing the size of black economy are nearly missing from this whole gigantic exercise. Even the impetus to the much cherished goal of growth seems to be conspicuous by its absence. The targets set are financial rather than physical. Contrary to the claim of Mr. Chidambaram and the UPA government, it has not addressed problems of the rural area such as unemployment, poverty, health and education. These observations are based on the contents and intentions of the budget.
Let us start with the poverty alleviation fund of Rs 10,000 crore. At 35 per cent poverty incidence (26 per cent as per Planning Commission estimates), this amount comes out to be mere Rs. 285 per poor person during the whole financial year of 2004-05. Another step is to provide subsidised food to 2.3 crore poor families. Insurance cover to BPL families and Indira Awash Yojna for the rural poor are other steps in this direction.
As regards the agricultural sector and rural economy, they still continue to be the backbone of the economy and a major source of employment. The move to diversify agriculture is good but the real problem is diversification of the rural economy in terms of occupation. One of the most serious limitations of Indian agriculture has been the non-shifting of workforce from agriculture to non-agricultural activities. The budget has not touched this vital problem.
The budget has proposed certain measures such as doubling of investment in irrigation, doubling of investment in agriculture during the next three years, provision of more credit, exemption of tractors from excise duty, etc. The last two measures would push the farmer to an already worsening debt-trap. Farmers’ indebtedness has been the single most important reason for their suicides in several states of India during the last decade or so.
As regards employment, the food-for-work programme is proposed for 150 districts aiming at providing 100 days of employment to every able-bodied person from poor households. This is good but it touches only the tip of the ice-berg.
When I say it is pro-LPG budget, it is because of the proposed increase of the FDI limit. The Budget proposes to increase the FDI cap in three main service sectors: from 26 per cent to 49 per cent in insurance, from 49 per cent to 74 per cent in telecommunications and from 40 per cent to 49 per cent in civil aviation. The budget also proposes to raise the investment ceiling for foreign institutional investors (FII) from $ 1 billion to $ 1.75 billion. The targeted disinvestment of Rs. 4,000 crores during 2004-05 and the proposal to sell 5 per cent of government equity in NTPC are the other steps towards LPG. Lowering of the peak tariff rates to 10 to 15 per cent in many of the important areas also supports the LPG orientation of the budget. Nevertheless, Mr. Chidambaram proposes to provide equity support of Rs. 14194 crore and loans of Rs. 2137 crore to central PSEs. This is yet to be seen how far it will help PSEs.
To support the small scale industry (SSI) sector, Mr. Chidambaram proposes to increase the rate of subsidy from 12 to 15 per cent, and raise the loan limit from Rs. 40 lakh to Rs 1 crore. He, however, takes back more with the other hand by proposing to take 85 items out of this sector.
The budget, however, proposes to promote agro-processing industries by exempting 100 per cent of their profit for five years and 25 per cent profit during the next five years. This needs an applause as it is the need of the hour in view of the predominance of the agricultural sector and large-scale rural employment in the country. But there are many pitfalls in it if it is not properly monitored.
The proposal to raise the income tax exemption limit from the present Rs. 50,000 to Rs. 1 lakh would certainly give relief to the salaried class at the lower end only, no one else will get any relief on this count. The Budget does not propose any solid strategy to curb black economy, mainly in industry, business and the services sector. At present, the size of black economy is around 45 per cent. At an estimated GDP of Rs. 26,46,840 crore during the 2004-05 the absolute size of black economy comes to Rs. 11,91,078 crore. As the black economy had come to stay mainly due to tax evasion, at an average rate of 25 per cent income tax, the loss on account of tax evasion comes to be Rs. 2,97,769 crore during 2004-05.
The foreign debt is likely to increase sharply from Rs. 4,93,502 crore in 2002-03 to about Rs. 5 lakh crore in 2004-05. If even half of the tax evasion (Rs. 1,50,000 crore) is realised with better and stringent tax compliance, India would be able to pay back the entire foreign debt in the next four to five years. Besides, we would be able to mobilise enough resources for capital investment (the back bone of economic development) and for investment in the social sector (education and health) and physical infrastructure. Only such a strategy will provide a lasting solution to the problems of unemployment and poverty. Besides, we will be able to bring down our revenue and fiscal deficits which are very dear to the IMF and the World Bank. The Budget has also not revealed any strategy to raise the saving and investment rates which are the fundamentals of growth.
With a better tax compliance, there would be no need to impose any education cess (though good gesture for education) on the tax payers as we would be able to spare enough funds for education from additional resource mobilisation. Bringing of more services under the tax net is a welcome step but mobilisation of tax is again a serious problem.
The entire exercise of the budget seems to lack any clear-cut strategy and direction in relation to growth and other pressing problems (such as unemployment, poverty, inequality, rural health and education) of the economy. The Union budget is expected to lay down policy guidelines on such vital challenges of the economy but these are missing. The WTO regime is going to be fully implemented with effect from January 1, 2005. The budget has not done any exercise in this direction. As an accountant’s exercise it is good.
Late last month, the government announced the appointment of a new Joint Secretary (External Publicity) of the Ministry of External Affairs. The JS (XP) is also the MEA spokesperson. Dilip Sinha, India’s Deputy High Commissioner in Bangladesh, was the new JS (XP) in place of Navtej Sarna, who was moved to the Disarmament Division of the MEA. Sinha obviously looked forward to dominating the airwaves as the MEA spokesman while Sarna liked heading a Division which an Additional Secretary-level officer — Sheel Kant Sharma, who has been appointed India’s new envoy in Brussels — had been heading. Then Sarna went to Indonesia and Singapore with the External Affairs Minister, not as JS (XP), but as the prospective JS (Disa). The idea was that Sarna would learn the ropes from Sharma about Disarmament as Sharma was also a part of Natwar Singh’s delegation.
Sinha obviously looked forward to dominating the airwaves as the MEA spokesman while Sarna liked heading a Division which an Additional Secretary-level officer — Sheel Kant Sharma, who has been appointed India’s new envoy in Brussels — had been heading.
Then Sarna went to Indonesia and Singapore with the External Affairs Minister, not as JS (XP), but as the prospective JS (Disa). The idea was that Sarna would learn the ropes from Sharma about Disarmament as Sharma was also a part of Natwar Singh’s delegation.
Compulsions of legal profession
Strange are compulsions of the legal profession as today’s friends become tomorrow’s rivals. This was evident during the hearing of the expelled Haryana MLAs’ case in the Supreme Court recently as the “deadly combination” of the NDA government’s law officers — former Attorney General Soli J Sorabjee and Solicitor General Kirit Raval — were seen forcefully arguing against each other as Sorabjee strongly pleaded the case of the affected legislators and Raval justified their expulsion by Speaker Satbir Singh Kadiyan. When some scribes asked the duo how they felt contesting a case against each other for the first time in six years, both of them laughed away the question. The Sorabjee-Raval combination was considered to be the “most cohesive” and effective team of the previous NDA government’s law officers who faced various legal slaughts with bravado during its regime.
When some scribes asked the duo how they felt contesting a case against each other for the first time in six years, both of them laughed away the question. The Sorabjee-Raval combination was considered to be the “most cohesive” and effective team of the previous NDA government’s law officers who faced various legal slaughts with bravado during its regime.
Laloo stays quiet
Railway Minister Laloo Prasad Yadav was all praise for the general Budget presented. He particularly commended its pro-poor tilt as well the package for Bihar and lambasted the previous NDA government for its apathy towards the poor and the non-BJP ruled states. However, the next day when the JD (U) sought to put the UPA government on the mat on the ground that the special package for Bihar had already been worked out by the previous NDA government, Laloo Prasad Yadav sought to maintain a stoic silence. And by the way, the Railway Minister will now like to be addressed as just Lalu Prasad. The government, however, continues to retain his full name as “Lalu Prasad Yadav”.
The government, however, continues to retain his full name as “Lalu Prasad Yadav”.
Fair to the fair sex
The National Commission for Women has lost no time in placing on record its appreciation of Laloo’s concern for the safety of women aboard trains. The Chairperson of the commission, Poornima Advani, in a letter to the Railway Minister, thanked him on behalf of the women of India for taking care of its recommendations and announcing special measures in the railway budget for women commuters. These include the deployment of lady ticket checking squads on some sections of zonal railways, forbidding the entry of unauthorised vendors in ladies’ compartments in suburban trains and display of security helpline numbers at prominent points in these compartments. Contributed by Rajeev Sharma, S.S. Negi and Tripti Nath
Contributed by Rajeev Sharma, S.S. Negi and Tripti Nath
Good are they who are adjudged good at God’s gate. The evil-doers can only sit outside and cry. — Guru Nanak May the great Lords of Truth, Devas, bring us bliss. — The Vedas A father has got his sons and others to free him from his debts, but he has got none but himself to remove his bondage. — Sri Adi Sankaracharya A Divine Incarnation is hard to comprehend. It is the play of the Infinite on the finite. — Sri Ramakrishna The highest ideal we have is God. Meditate on Him. We cannot know the Knower, but we are
He. — Swami Vivekananda
— Guru Nanak
May the great Lords of Truth, Devas, bring us bliss.
— The Vedas
A father has got his sons and others to free him from his debts, but he has got none but himself to remove his bondage.
— Sri Adi Sankaracharya
A Divine Incarnation is hard to comprehend. It is the play of the Infinite on the finite.
— Sri Ramakrishna
The highest ideal we have is God. Meditate on Him. We cannot know the Knower, but we are He.
— Swami Vivekananda